15 December 2016

The Marketing Centre’s Email Marketing For Beginners’ Guide

Richard Hancock
Written by Richard Hancock

Richard Hancock is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years experience working across the FMCG, Digital Entertainment, Technology & Telecoms industries, both in the UK & overseas.

Celebrity spats, fake news, Presidential rants: social media may get all the headlines, but for B2B businesses looking to connect with their audience, email still rules the roost.

In fact, according to McKinsey email is 40 times more effective at customer acquisition than Twitter and Facebook. Why? It’s direct, it’s highly targetable, and it’s personalised. If social media is the online equivalent of fly-posting a town centre, email is delivering a handwritten invitation.

We would go so far as to say that every business will benefit from email marketing. But like all marketing tactics, you need to back everything up with a solid strategy and defined measurements of success.

This is part one of a three-part series on email marketing basics for B2B SMEs. In this first instalment, we’ll outline email analytics to watch and simple strategies for using campaign data to improve your email performance.

The importance of intelligence

MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Communigator: whichever email marketing platform you use, each will provide its own reports on email performance.

The headline stats people always look for following an email campaign are open, click-through and unsubscribe rates. One of the reasons email marketing is so compelling is because these top-line stats are a quantifiable indication of success: More people opening and clicking is good; a sudden spike in unsubscribes is bad.

But these figures only tell part of the story. And delving into the more sophisticated data - again, available within each platform’s reports - can provide much more valuable insights for future campaigns.

If you include a video and there is no discernible uplift in clicks, it could be that your audience is disinterested in video.

Instead of simply looking at the total click-through rate, for instance, each platform can tell us the link that attracted the most clicks - a sign that the piece of content is appealing to that particular audience. As an example, including a video in an email can increase click-throughs by 50%. If you include a video and there is no discernable uplift in clicks, it could be that your audience is disinterested in video.

Even better, Mailchimp offers ‘heatmapping’ analytics, which shows where readers clicked in your email – showing whether readers are more likely to interact with an image or a text version of a link, for example, or the first or last piece of content in your mailer. If people skip past the main piece of content, or your sales message is being ignored, you may want to rethink the layout or design of the mailer.

Away from the pure numbers, you can find out which of your subscribers clicked on links by name. With this info, we can look for trends. Are there four or five people on the list who fit your target audience and regularly engage with your mailers? There may be an opportunity to nurture that lead further with a special offer, a separate email series, or perhaps even a speculative phone call.

Analytics integration

While the analytics reports within each email marketing platform are insightful, the real magic comes when you combine them with Google Analytics. Your newsletter campaigns should drive the audience to your site, Google Analytics will give you an insight into what they do when they get there.

Google Analytics offers market-leading website analytics and is free and simple to install. For information on adding tracking to your site, click here.

With Analytics installed, here are a few examples of what an integrated email-website approach can deliver:

  1. Better ROI tracking. Businesses often use a landing page as an entry point to their website. Having been configured to do so, Google Analytics tracks email campaigns and follows visitors throughout their visit. Email campaigns can then be directly associated with the resulting costs, revenue and conversions from visitors, making it possible to determine the ROI of each email marketing campaign.
  2. Better email creative. One of the hardest things to determine is link placement within a marketing email. Analytics can help determine which link location yields the highest ROI. The same is true of email subject lines. Before sending a campaign to a full contacts list, A/B test different subject lines to a small group of subscribers. Then, track which email generated the most referrals and successful conversions using website analytics.
  3. Effective targeting of prospects. It’s possible to let web analytics drive online content and offers. For instance, if a product sits in a prospect’s shopping cart without being purchased, it’s worth sending an email to the prospect with a coupon to incentivise the sale.
  4. An improved customer journey. An email campaign might have a great click-through rate but a poor conversion rate. Tracking prospects’ journeys through a site can help determine whether changes are needed to the site design or campaign messaging. When analysis suggests that visitors are interested but not yet ready to buy, it’s worth considering refining products or services offered.

Best practice wins

When building an email marketing strategy, the goal should be to make email data actionable, but not overwhelming. Key steps to achieving this are as follows:
  • Define the objective, strategy and ‘Call To Action’ of each email campaign. This clarifies thinking and makes it possible to use analytics data to refine offers to achieve overall objectives.
  • Define high-value targets, then use data to validate or refute a hypothesis. One of the biggest challenges for marketers is identifying the right segments for targeted campaigns. With the use of analytics, however, the possibilities for segmentation are endless – not least by demographics, actions taken on the website (like a purchase or newsletter sign-up) or the email (like a click or open).
  • Tie goals and targets together. For example, if an initiative is to sell more of a product, look for data that confirms which email campaigns were the most effective and those pages getting the most hits from later purchasers. Use this data to promote your product accordingly.
  • Test and measure to get more, better results. It might take extensive rounds of testing to find success. Use simple A/B testing and Google’s Analytics Content Experiments to measure, test and optimise.
  • Avoid ‘analysis paralysis’. Analysis should help, not hinder, email marketing. Staying goal-focussed is essential. Work on one report, one initiative and one target – completing the task before moving on.
  • Be data-driven. It’s important to base marketing decisions on empirical data – and not get caught up with a subjective view of what works and what doesn’t for any campaign.
  • Recognise trends over absolute data. An open rate of 35% from a weekly email campaign may be poor if it represents a big decrease from a steady 40% over the past six months, or brilliant if it’s an uplift from a constant 20%.

Making the most of email marketing

Remember, data on its own is worthless. Checking reports, monitoring click-throughs, and analysing your most engaged subscribers is all very well, but it’s what you do with all that insight that matters. To get the most from your analytics, focus on those measures which deliver maximum insight, integrate your email with website tracking, and make data-driven decisions.

Most important of all, remember the successful marketer’s mantra: test, test, and test again.

In our next instalment, we’ll be covering customer nurture campaigns and using email data to build sophisticated customer segments. 

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